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A discussion on the subjectivity of racism

Are equality and relativism/constructivism actually compatible? This is not just an issue of whether we can measure something and how (epistemology), but also a question of, if everyone is experiencing things subjectively (ontology), then is it consistent to talk about equality and inequality, which assume or require some kind of observable/objective benchmark or reality? (Question by Roman Gerodimos as part of my EdD discusiion)




 To put it simply if racism is experienced as subjectively, is it real?

As a Christian, this physical world is simply a manifestation of a more real spiritual world so from even that starting point we can argue nothing is actually real or objective in this reality, so is measuring it and who determines what is objective in the first place.

From that standpoint we can move on to discuss relativism and say it is not incompatible with science. At what point did we as people decide 2 plus 2 is 4? Did we wake up and just discover it standing there like the sun and moon or did someone or people say this was science and how we would measure things. It was agreed within a context and is not an objective reality, so even reality is constructed and relative in so many ways. It is not finite but it provides structure and order and that is its usefulness for me. When we have a set of fixed guidelines or objective structures, we can adequately operate within it.

My ontological position is that of a black African woman in a country which presents an image of myself which is less than how I see myself. In sociological theories of self and identity when this image conflicts with my own prescribed identity it is called ‘distortion’. At this point I can accept the identity being prescribed by society or I can reject it.

Here is an example: I went to a COSTA last week. The young boy (18-20 years) takes the order of the client in front of me and then proceeds to ignore me in the queue. So, I say’ I’m here and I’d like to order’. (I am already angry). He says ‘you must wait for his drink to be made’. There are 3 other staff behind the counter making the drinks. This is a Costa—you order and wait and the next person is served. I say ‘nevermind’ and walk out.  But I could not let it go so I return to the café and threw up a fuss about how out of order he was and stepping on my humanity etc with a very apologetic manager trying to make it up to me by offering to serve me which I reject. 

The manager also made the mistake of saying to me ‘you don’t need to be angry’ ‘in her attempt to placate me. I hate that with a vengeance when it comes to racism- The idea that you can tell someone else how they must interpret their feelings and it is usually around racism-- Like saying Meghan Markle lied when she said she experienced racism.

 Let me break this down in relation to an ontological perspective in relation to objectivity.

A physical slap is felt physically and so that is defined as objective. A racial slight is felt emotionally and so it is not objective and thus can be dismissed as not valid.

The moment of this boy’s rudeness was as real to me as a physical slap—who has the right to tell me it is not real? My interpretation or response to the slap or the slight are my right and choice to make and they are both valid.

When I graduated from university in 1995, I looked around the UK as a 23-year-old black female African graduate and understood that racial bias would limit my progress or ability to be myself and left the UK. Was this a valid response? It was real to me—enough to make me pack my bags with my £250 and lie my way onto a plane without a valid ticket.

The racism may not be physical but the impact and its results are. Hence countless reports of black people getting less promotions, dying more from lack of health care, getting poorer housing, filling up the jail houses etc etc.

Are the results of racism relative or constructivist? Are they to be ignored because the unseen structures that perpetuate them and keep them in place are not objective?

When I hear the saying ‘she is pulling out the race card’ everything goes red—yes I literally cannot manage my anger—because people want to be able to get away with abuse because it is unseen and expect you not to respond to it. But you can feel the impact. It is as real as a slap. I say I hold my race card in my pocket as I hold my anger card, joy card or whatever card I choose, and they come out when I perceive what is coming my way.  

The lines of objectivity or subjectivity are irrelevant to me when it comes to racism. How I feel is real and every wall or barrier or structure set up to limit my response to suit itself will be responded to as befitting of the situation.

The response to racism is the reason why I set up my own film academy. My ontological perspective has resulted in an objective reality of a film academy which is observable. Thus, one cannot ignore the subjective response of an individual because it is subjective. There is always an objective manifestation somewhere. You can see the result and how one continues to respond to the results in a call for objective reality of the action is what is unreal.

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